Sat, Dec 15, 2018 - Page 14 News List

Church renovation lifts Christmas spirit in Bethlehem
伯利恆教堂修繕完工 振奮耶誕節慶精神

A nun prays at the Grotto in the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Wednesday.

Photo: EPA

A historic renovation of the Church of the Nativity is lifting spirits in the biblical town of Bethlehem ahead of Christmas, offering visitors a look at ancient mosaics and columns that have been restored to their original glory for the first time in 600 years.

City officials hope the renovation at the traditional birthplace of Jesus will boost tourism and a weak economy in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and perhaps slow a decades-long drain of the Christian population from the lands where the faith was born.

The renovation started in 2013, a year after UNESCO declared the church a world heritage site, and is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

One of Christianity’s most sacred shrines, the church was built in the fourth century by St. Helena over a cave where the Virgin Mary is said to have given birth. What pilgrims mostly see today is the basilica built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, who ruled from 527 to 565. Neglected for decades before the renovation, the roof of the church was leaking, windows were broken, mosaics were covered in grime and walls and columns were damaged. After five years of work, it has been transformed.

Bethlehem is heavily dependent on Christmas tourism, with hotels, restaurants and gift stores doing much of their business during the short holiday season. The renovated church has become a popular destination.








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